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Self-serve library idea challenged

Friends of Hungerford Library

John Garvey


01635 886628

Fury over plans to close Hungerford Library

ANGER and resentment against West Berkshire Council is mounting in Hungerford as the task of running a volunteer library service becomes clear.

Town councillors accused the district council of making up its library policy “as they go along”.

West Berkshire Council has finally released estimated annual running costs, excluding staff salaries – £36,920 in the case of Hungerford and £14,480 in the case of Lambourn.

But a spokeswoman for the Friends of Hungerford Library, Helen Simpson, said their own estimation, including salaries, was £65,000.

She added: “West Berkshire Council said that they would like the libraries to run in a self-serve manner, but they are yet to elaborate what this decision will mean for the employed professional staff already in place.

“Our own research has shown self- service libraries have problems in functionality, so West Berkshire Council need to be sure this model is suitable for the libraries it funds and not waste money on a model that doesn’t have a proven track record.

“West Berkshire Council still need to provide more detailed information regarding individual costings of each library and any commitment West Berkshire will give long term.

“We are still of the opinion that West Berkshire Council have a responsibility to provide a comprehensive library service.”

The council was proposing to close eight of the district’s nine libraries – leaving just Newbury open.

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The Friends of Hungerford Library wrote to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which has warned the district council it could not close the libraries without carrying out a detailed needs assessment.

Last week the district council announced it was using £475,000 of ‘transitional funding’ to give six of them, including Hungerford’s, what campaigners described as a temporary stay of execution.

At a meeting of Hungerford Town Council’s recreation and amenities committee on Monday night, Keith Knight said: “The staff simply don’t know what’s going on.

“There are rumours they might have to reapply for their jobs but it doesn’t make sense to consider making them redundant at this stage if it’s fully funded to keep open for a year.

“Then they throw in this red herring about self service, whatever that means.

“I think West Berkshire have their tail between their legs right now and are backing down after what the DCMS said.”

Carolann Farrell said: “So, West Berks are obliged to provide a library service – but let’s find out what, exactly, that means before we say we will do all that on a voluntary basis.

“We should say ‘no, you’ve got to provide it so tell us what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it’.

“We should put it back on their shoulders and say ‘how are you going to help us to do this?’”

Mr Knight said: “They’re making it up as they go along. We [the Friends of Hungerford Library] wrote to the DCMS and told them what was going on and it seems we had an impact.”

It was agreed to postpone any further action until after a meeting tonight (Thursday) at which West Berkshire Council will formally decide how it will use the transitional funding.

West Berkshire Council leader Roger Croft (Con, Thatcham South and Crookham) said in a statement that the transitional funding was “a lifeline which will enable these services to move to a more sustainable funding model.

“In particular, it will allow us to work with partners, community groups and parishes to secure these services in the long term,” he said.

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